Friday 28 October 2016

Family Guy: The 'First World problem' of competitive picnicking

Inspiring 'picnic envy' is the ultimate aim for Dave
Inspiring 'picnic envy' is the ultimate aim for Dave

IT'S been some years since my wife and I last participated in what we call 'competitive picnicking' and we're a little out of practice.

We hit the supermarket as time ticks down to something being billed as 'an outdoor theatre event' and where, it seems, there's to be lots of people coveting the contents of one another's chequered rugs... and this time, we're determined to be among the coveted, not the coveters.

Grabbing shopping baskets, we weave around each other, contestants in a sort of food snob's Supermarket Sweep.

"Olives?" I offer, pausing in the chilled foods and making a small jabbing motion with an invisible toothpick.

My wife closes one eye as though visualising every possible scenario involving olives and toothpicks, then wrinkles her nose. "Tapenade," she says instead, seizing a small tub of green mulch. She holds it up and mimes with her other hand, dipping what I think must be an invisible tortilla chip.

"Genius," I nod and we both turn in perfect sync, almost pirouetting around a centre-aisle cracker display, and meeting with a clink of baskets in front of the cheeses.

"Camembert?" she says, pronouncing the end of the word with a roll of the tongue.

I wave my finger from side to side. "Cambozola," I announce, trying to sound posh, but sounding more like a teenager with the munchies who should be adding the word 'dude'.

We separate at the cold meats, regrouping by the chilled wines. "Paté," pants my wife, motioning to her basket and adding: "Coarse, not smooth."

"Prosecco," I show her. "And you know that little wine jacket we have for keeping bottles cold? Already in the freezer." I give a little fist pump.

"Wow," she says.

We unload our picnic booty at the till and watch it snake along the conveyor belt. "We'll bring champagne glasses and some nice cutlery," says my wife dreamily.

"We could even brush all the bird shit and spider webs off the folding chairs," I say in a far-off voice. The sales clerk lobs me a quizzical frown, between barcode pings, then jabs a screen like she's squashing a bug. "That'll be 38 euro," she says blankly.

My wife and I exchange worried glances over the credit card. "It sounds like more than it is," she says.

"It's because of the wine," I say.

"There's bound to be leftovers," she says.

We struggle out to the car, then trundle home, taking turns to peer out the windscreen at the glowering early evening sky.

We unpack everything onto the kitchen table then repack it in our picnic bag, painstakingly extruded from the vast puzzle of broken kites under the stairs.

As my wife goes to wrestle folding chairs from the shed, I unpack the picnic once more, like a Polar explorer taking inventory. "It's all about the reveal," I explain as my wife puffs back in, covered in cobwebs and lugging chairs.

"Really," she mutters darkly, blowing a small feather off her nose with her bottom lip.

"They think all you have are a few bits of bread, maybe some cheese, see?" I lift the bread, all elbows, just to demonstrate. "But then you're like... Hah! Tapenade, tortilla chips AND crackers. And wait for it..." I lift the bottle with its tatty frozen plastic jacket. "Prosecco, suckers!"

"We should get a move on," says my wife.

At the venue, a castle garden belonging to the local council, we hump our supplies to a walled area where a small stage has been set up.

In front of this are already a dozen or more tiny encampments where bottles and little lunch boxes are being carefully pried open. To our right is a couple with grim-looking sandwiches. They watch enviously as I place each of our picnic items onto the blanket for display.

"Heh-heh," I chuckle, nudging my wife.


"I don't think they're looking at us," murmurs my wife, looking past me to our left.

There, two elderly ladies with a knee-high folding table are carefully placing lemon wedges around a china platter of smoked salmon, then raising slender flutes of wine and smirking at one another, quite self-satisfactorily I think, before one of them produces an elaborate wooden pepper grinder.

"Ah, now that's just taking the piss," I grumble, tossing the tortilla chips onto our blanket in surrender.

We suffer through our paté and crackers, watching as the pair move on to carve slices from a glistening hunk of roast ham which emerges from foil, before finally producing tiny ceramic pots and spoons.

"Oh God," whispers my wife, grabbing my elbow and glaring. "Fancy desserts."

"That's it," I whisper hoarsely. "Next time, we're bringing a bloody three-tiered cake."

"Sssh," she says. "The play is about to start."

I look at her, one cheek bulging with bread: "There's a play?"

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